In a statement proclaiming Monday as “Pulse Remembrance Day,” Gov. Rick Scott described the Pulse nightclub shooting that killed 49 people a year ago as “an attack on Orlando, our state, the Hispanic community and on the LGBTQ community.”
Nadine Smith, executive director of Equality Florida, the leading advocacy group for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights in Florida, is “glad” Scott acknowledges the killings were a direct attack on the gay community, specifically the Latino gay community.
But Smith believes the governor could go even further — by signing an executive order to include sexual orientation and gender identity in an anti-discrimination measure.
“We want to make sure that is in addition to, and not a substitute for, the real work of making sure that discrimination is not acceptable in the state of Florida, and he can do that with an executive order and a stroke of a pen,” Smith said at a Ybor City news conference Monday morning.
Also at the event were Congresswoman Kathy Castor and GaYBOR District co-founder Carrie West.
“We hope he does that, and we hope any candidate running for office that invokes the name of Pulse has the courage to name the victims and make clear their stance, not in platitudes, but in real promises,” Smith added.
That last comment referred to Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, a leading Republican candidate for governor next year. On Sunday, Putnam issued a statement that neglected to mention that many of those of those killed last year in what was the worst mass shooting in U.S. history were gay and/or Latino.
Just a week after the shootings last year, Equality Florida called on Scott to take executive action to protect people from discrimination for sexual orientation or gender identity. Although many local governments include the LGBTQ community in their own human rights ordinances (including St. Petersburg, Tampa, Miami and a host of others), the state of Florida does not include sexual orientation and/or gender identity in its statewide laws.
The Florida Legislature once again opted not to pass the Florida Competitive Workforce Act this spring, the bill that would sexual orientation and gender identity to the state’s list of groups that cannot be discriminated against. That’s despite the fact that the bill had its most momentum ever going into a session with 36 different co-sponsors, including Republicans like Dana Young, Chris Latvala and Joe Gruters.
The FBI declared the Pulse nightclub shooting an act of terror — but not a hate crime — despite the shooter targeting a gay club during Latin night.
“This was a hate crime, but the federal government did not follow through and designate it as a hate crime,” Castor said. “The march toward equal rights and civil rights in America has been steady, but sometimes it’s been slow.”
“Hate was clearly at the center of it,” Smith said, a reference to how the father of killer Omar Mateen had openly spoken about his disgust for gay people.
While the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling legalizing same-sex marriage two summers ago was a wonderful achievement, Smith said there is still much work to be done “in the face of a rather ugly backlash” with the LGBTQ community.
“Everybody can stop that joke being told at the dinner table, they can intervene when they see street harassment, they can speak up in their workplace and ask ‘do we have policies that make it clear that everybody is going to be respected and treated equally?'” Smith asked rhetorically.
Just hours after the shooting, Equality Florida set up a GoFundMe page for the victims and their families. They took in $9.5 million before merging with the OneOrlando Fund, which ultimately raised more than $31 million.
In August, the organization also set up its new two-month “Safe & Health Schools Project.” That program is designed to provide all Florida school districts with resources necessary to support and affirm LGBTQ students.
Castor and Smith both said that Pulse victims need to be honored with action (the name of a hashtag campaign that Equality Florida has created which calls for people to commit to direct actions to honor the victims).
And Castor said that there’s a lot of work to be done, referring specifically to President Donald Trump‘s selection of Roger Severino, a former Heritage Foundation staffer.
Severino has argued that same-sex marriage threatens religious liberty and that civil rights protections should not extend to transgender patients.
Castor also said that Congress continues to refuse to support ENDA, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which has failed to gather support back in the 1990s.
“As we remember our neighbors who lost their lives at the Pulse nightclub, it’s very important to honor them with action, and all of us can join together tonight in Ybor and come together but then demand that policymakers across the country really do action on equal rights for everyone,” Castor said, referring to an event commemorating the event scheduled to take place at Ybor’s Centennial Park at 7 p.m.